I sat down with the Men and Women’s Cross-Country coach, Jason Fast, and asked him to reflect on how the current season is going so far. He said, “Our runners are a very dedicated group and do what is necessary both at practice and away from practice to be their very best.” Dedication is an important aspect to have for any athlete, without it one cannot push themselves enough to reach their goals and improve their own skills. What makes this sport so fascinating is the fact that cross-country seems like it would be much more of an individual sport. However, as first year Leah Hawksford mentions, it is her teammates which help push her past boundaries she didn’t know she could break.
This past week, the Men’s and Women’s Cross-Country team traveled to Oshkosh where their meet was held. Our Vikings performed well, and even ranked in the top five! I asked Coach Fast for some highlights from the meet, and he said, “[Senior] Molly Doruska and Leah Hawksford both had great races and huge personal bests. Leah PR’d by almost two minutes!” Leah commented on her adjustment to college athletics, saying “It’s a lot more intense than high school, but in a good way. In high school, I rarely ran on the weekends and really just looked at workouts as a chore. Now, the team atmosphere is amazing, and Coach Fast doesn’t push us past what he knows we’re capable of. There also isn’t a stigma around cross training, which I really appreciate since I like to swim the day before a meet.” An athlete knows it’s the environment which could make or break you—if the team’s atmosphere is not right, there goes your motivation and drive. But it is especially apparent that Hawksford is bonding well with her teammates and is enjoying what she is doing, especially when considering her placement at the UW-Oshkosh meet. I asked Leah to reflect on how she did at the Oshkosh meet, and she said, “I ran a 6k (and 5k split) PR of 24:29, taking fifth overall and first on the team. I really didn’t think that would get even close to happening, given that my last 6k was 26:26 at Lake Forest. Coach advised me to go out and hang with Molly for the first mile, and I guess I just kept going after that. The temperature really helped—cold running weather is my favorite as my legs don’t get heavy, they just get numb, and I can keep pushing my pace and kick towards the end of the race.”
Like all journeys, at some point they come to an end, which is where senior Alec Timpe, on the Men’s Cross-Country team, comes into play. Alec provides an interesting perspective that counters Hawksford’s in the idea of class. With Timpe being a senior, he is more accustomed to the competition and style of play, making his perspective of the game intriguing when comparing it to a freshmen’s mindset of the game. With his journey almost done, I asked him to reflect on his years as a college athlete here at Lawrence. He said, “The most substantial part of my running journey here at Lawrence was trying to figure out how to be competitive and continue to improve without getting hurt along the way. I have struggled with overuse injuries (such as shin splints) in the past that make me take time off to recover and lose some of the progress that I have made along the way. Through trial and error and working with Coach Fast, I think I have started to understand my body much better so that I can continue to train and improve while maintaining a good balance between running, school, and health. As I have figured out what it takes for me personally to be a healthier runner, I have been able to focus more on the little aspects of the sport to make myself faster instead of constantly working back from an injury or being worried that I will re-injure myself again during the course of normal training.” I then asked Alex to reflect on his experience at the UW-Oshkosh meet. He said, “Cross country meets are usually eight kilometers (roughly five miles). Lawrence’s top finisher in the race of 52 runners was first year Billy Daniels in 16th, followed by sophomore Cullen Allard and senior Ben Schaefer at 18th and 29th, respectively. I was our fourth runner at 33rd place. First-year Sam Marrese-Wheeler was our final scoring runner at 35th place. I know that personally, I did not race as well as I had hoped. I know based on workouts that we have done that I am capable of running much faster. If I want to compete better, I need to focus on what is happening at each moment during the race and not worry about how many more miles I have to run, or if I am not feeling very good, how much time I have to be in pain before I can stop. Thoughts like “Wow, I still have four miles to go” or “Everything hurts—I should slow down so it feels better” are distracting during the race and prevent me from being as competitive as I should be. Changing my self-talk going into each meet and during the duration of the race is an important thing for me to do if I want to reach my goals.”
I asked Coach Fast what his goals were for the Cross-Country team moving forward into the season. He responded by saying, “If we want to succeed we need to continue to stay focused once the school year really kicks into high gear. It’s easy to stay on top of the little things during preseason, but once school starts getting more difficult you have to be much more focused on staying ahead and managing your time and stress.” I then asked the two athletes what their goals were for the season, senior Alex Timpe, commented by saying, “ In my last cross country season, I hope that I can PR again, score points for my team during the conference race and be All-Conference. Based on the times I have run in workouts so far, I think it is very possible for me to PR. We have a very strong returning team and some great freshmen, so I will have to work hard to be in scoring position on our team. All-Conference honors is my loftiest goal, since only three out of the 20 All-Conference runners last year were seniors, meaning that 17 out of the 20 best runners in the Midwest Conference are back again this year.” With Hawksford being a freshman, and being so new to this environment, being now an NCAA student athlete, it makes sense that her goals revolve around finding balance and figuring out how things work. She said of her goals, “To see what my limits are for this new distance, and to stay uninjured (knock on wood). Joining the team has really forced me to implement a schedule, which I really needed (I’m trying for pre-med). In my mind right now, advancing my athletic and academic goals go hand in hand since they work together and help me create a good balance between social, school, workout and study time. I don’t have any specific running goals race-wise since I’m new to the field, so let’s play it by ear!” In accomplishing these goals, it is Coach Fast who ultimately creates an atmosphere that fosters success, so I asked him to explain what he loves about Cross-Country and why he coaches. He says, “There is a lot that I love about this sport. I love that there are no time-outs, no instant replay; the individual decides and performs to their own desired outcome. What makes it special for me is that I was also a Division III cross country and track and field student athlete and through great coaching and a dedication to my craft I was able to achieve things that I never thought were possible when I first started my career as a runner. It’s an honor to be able to provide that same experience to our student athletes.” Whether it’s the beginning of your journey here at Lawrence like Hawksford, or the end of yours like Timpe, it’s important to realize what your goals are in life, and when and how you plan to accomplish them.